How to Get Out of a Slump

Almost every athlete has experienced a "slump" during some point in their career. A slump is a period of time when you're not playing well. More specifically, I define a slump as a period of time when you're not playing well despite wanting to play well. I won't include the situations where your poor performance is mainly due to a lack of motivation. I consider these situations more as "burnout" than a slump. I will write about burnout in the future, but for now, I want to focus on slumps.

Being in a slump is very frustrating, because most often, you don't know exactly why you're in a slump. Athletes that are in a slump are often very motivated to get out of their slump, but they just can't seem to do it. The main reason for this is simply because they don't know exactly why they're in a slump. You need to look at a slump from a problem-solving perspective and think critically. Obviously identifying the main problem is easy. It is a slump. Most athletes are aware of this. However, they usually don't know specifically what the problems are. For example, a quarterback may know they're in a slump, but they might not know what exactly their problems are. If they think critically and study their film and stats, they may discover that their issues include a low completion percentage, a high interception rate, and a tendency to get sacked a lot. This is the first step, to identify the problems specifically, which isn't that hard.

The harder part is finding out why these problems are occurring. The quarterback needs to ask himself, "Why am I completing a low percentage of my throws? Why am I throwing many interceptions? Why am I getting sacked a lot?" It takes careful thinking to correctly answer these questions. Many athletes stay in a slump because they answer these questions incorrectly. They may think the reason why they throw interceptions is because of X, but in reality, it is because of Y. With this misinformation, they are unable to solve the problem, so they remain in their slump. To successfully answer these questions, you need to think critically. Study film, study stat sheets, and consult with your coaches. Read books, learn more about your sport. This also helps. 

An important thing to know is that problems are usually caused by multiple factors. There isn't just one reason why a quarterback gets sacked a lot. Technique wise, the quarterback may have a long, slow throwing motion, which makes it easier for the defense to sack him. Physically, the quarterback may be too slow to escape pass rushers. Strategically, the offensive coordinator may be calling too many plays that require the receivers to run deep routes. Mentally, the quarterback may have a tendency to hesitate and wait too long to make a decision to where to throw the ball. You need to attack the problem from all angles. Look at each component of sports: technique, fitness, strategy, and the mental game, and see how they could be affecting your slump.

Next, once correctly identifying the problems and the reasons why they are happening, you need to implement a strategy to solve the problems. This is very similar to the previous step. You need to think very critically to find the right solutions. Most likely, there are multiple viable strategies you can do to solve your problems. Most likely, there is one main strategy that will work the best. You need to experiment and find out which strategies are working and which are not. For the example about the quarterback getting sacked a lot, finding the solutions isn't too difficult. Technically, the QB can shorten his throwing motion. Physically, the QB can become faster and more agile. Strategically, the QB can tell his offensive coordinator to call different plays. Mentally, the QB can learn to trust his instincts and become more decisive.

Finally, you need to commit to your problem-solving solutions. Knowing exactly why you're in a slump, and how you can get out of it, is not enough. You need to to act on this information and commit yourself to fixing your problems. The results don't always arrive quickly. You need to be patient and trust the process. It's so important to stay positive and have a good attitude during a slump. Being too negative during a slump only makes things worse.

Like I said, a main characteristic of slumps is that it's hard to tell what the problem is. This is often because the problems lie in your mental game, which is less tangible and harder to understand than the other components of sports. A player may be technically sound, physically fit, and playing strategically smart, but something about their mental game is causing them to be in a slump. Many times, it is related to confidence. Putting too much pressure on yourself is another main cause of a slump. Not knowing how to think, focus, and manage emotions properly while performing is another main cause. Sometimes a slump is caused by anxiety from off-the-field issues. There are many things you can do to solve these issues and improve your mental game. Such things include counseling/therapy, practicing mental exercises such as meditation and imagery, training more, and simply taking time off to rest and recover mentally. I will continue to write more about these strategies to improve your mental game.